Shareda Hosein is a Muslim chaplain, public speaker, consultant, and retired lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves. She served as a chaplain at Tufts University and is a founding member of the Association of Muslim Chaplains.
Q: What excites you most about chaplaincy as a field?
A: It’s the connection to another human being and being able to support them — to mentor and guide, if you are in an academic setting, which is what I did serving as a chaplain at Tufts University.
Q: What have been some of your most formative experiences with chaplaincy?
A: I did CPE in October of 2001, a month after 9/11. I also started seminary on 9/11 at Hartford Seminary. The world turned upside down for me being in the military, so doing my CPE at Brigham and Women’s hospital was like being in a cocoon away from all the negative news.
In 2004, I petitioned the US Army to become chaplain, and they said no. In 2005, I petitioned again, and again they said no. My goal for becoming a chaplain was to do so in the US Army, so the disappointment was a huge blow for me. I ended up going on active duty to Kuwait in 2004, and in 2007 I joined the Special Operations Command in Florida. We created this job for me called Cultural Engagement Officer, and I was educating my colleagues about Islam. I felt my chaplaincy training was more so with my colleagues. Whenever people were in crisis, I would do it as my side job.
The military just broke the gender barrier with Muslim chaplains. The Air Force last December commissioned their first female Muslim chaplain. She is finishing up her coursework, and she will soon ship to basic training. I feel gratified that even if I couldn’t do it, here is another woman that I support stepping in the role.
I have also stayed engaged with the Association of Muslim Chaplains. I am one of its founders, and this year is its tenth anniversary. I gave all of my effort to this organization.
Q: What challenges have you observed in the field?
A: There is this category that I call a community chaplain: someone working at the local level through their mosque or through social programs. The role hasn’t gained much traction in the Muslim community, unfortunately.
Muslim communities really need chaplains. We have a lot of immigrants from trauma-torn countries, both first-generation and second-generation people. It is hard especially with the youth population because of the fear their families have that they won’t practice the religion. A chaplain can address these issues better because they work human to human, person to person. It’s not all about the ritual of the prayer but the whole person looking at the whole person. I wish we could socialize that concept better within Muslim commuities.
Q: What are the most important skills for chaplains to develop?
A: I’d have them all do the Landmark Forum because you get to take a look at yourself. You can resolve past hurts, upsets, and create a clearing in which to create a future. I am also a big proponent of being in therapy. It’s how we clear up our inner baggage to move forward. Because if I have my baggage with me, I can’t be present to another human being when they are in their crisis. I think that is the most critical piece. The academic piece is what’s easy. The irony is for all the education,we get paid less than a college graduate with a business degree! My big gripe is that a very important role is not paid well enough or valued well enough in society.
Q: Is there anything you’d like to add?
A: Wouldn’t it be nice if chaplains could come together as a collective and share best practices and build camaraderie? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have bigger gatherings of chaplains, coming together like at the American Academy of Religion (AAR), for example? If you are not an academic, you won’t come to AAR. Chaplains aren’t necessarily academics but they play such a critical role in their communities. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could create that? And to bring a sense of pride to the position, to make it seem valued and valuable, because it is?